Kevin Harvick snapped his 65-race winless streak at Michigan International Speedway last Sunday, collecting the 59th win of his Cup Series career, and his first in the Next Gen car. However, before that trip to Victory Lane, the Stewart-Haas Racing pilot addressed the media and talked about the drivers’ concerns with the car. It was his second time in as many weeks to discuss the topic.
Those concerns have been heightened in the last month, with Kurt Busch missing four races due to a concussion. Harvick, like other drivers, has said throughout the year that the new car produces bigger impacts. And, he candidly told reporters NASCAR needs to do a better job of addressing the issue.
Kevin Harvick voiced concerns on safety of Next Gen car last year
Last July, and months before the Next Gen car ever made its debut, Kevin Harvick rang the alarm bell on behalf of the drivers when he called out NASCAR for its lack of transparency surrounding the safety of the new car.
Those concerns were only born after rumors started swirling around potential safety issues. Multiple sources reported that it had performed poorly in crash tests, with test dummies suffering what would be considered fatal injuries.
Before the Cup Series race at Atlanta, Harvick addressed the drivers’ concerns.
“As we sat in the drivers’ meeting that NASCAR had with us (in May) to show us everything, I think that the most frustrating part of the whole process is the fact that the safety piece to the drivers and the conversation with the drivers, which was asked for by the drivers, was had at the very end of everything,” the driver said. “And I think as you look at that, I think the guys driving the cars are owed at least the respect enough to at least be a part of the process of what’s going on. Everybody is just a little bit frustrated with how all that’s been handled.”
Harvick says NASCAR not prioritizing driver safety enough
This year, the Next Gen car made its debut in the Clash at the Coliseum and it has produced entertaining racing action on an almost-weekly basis throughout the season. Unfortunately, it’s also consistently produced big hits.
Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, and others have said that the impacts in the car are harder. Some have even suggested the hits were the hardest in their respective careers. As we’ve seen with Kurt Busch, the impact and its resulting effects have been serious enough to sideline him for four weeks and counting.
In the last couple of weeks, with Busch’s absence being top of mind, reporters have regularly questioned drivers about those impacts. Harvick, who has suffered a couple of big hits of his own at Fontana and Gateway, has once again shown his veteran leadership and been outspoken about the issue of driver safety and NASCAR’s handling of it.
“I think when you look at the things that happened with the accidents, I think these are the exact concerns that the drivers had from the very first day we saw the car,” Harvick told Racer.com at Indianapolis. “There hasn’t been a lot of progression other than we changed some of the rear clip stuff; we changed some of the impact stuff. But these cars don’t crash like the other cars crash.
“They’re violent impacts, and they feel a lot different than what the crash data g-load is. It goes straight through the driver’s body. I don’t think anybody really understands, except for the drivers that have crashed into something, the violence that comes in the car.”
The 2014 Cup champion suggested NASCAR hasn’t been proactive with the situation but reactive.
“There’s not an easy fix, but it needs to be a much higher priority than what it is right now,” he said. “I know that safety is always a priority, and we’ve done a good job at that, but from the get-go, everybody could see this car was way too stiff. When I crashed it at Fontana, I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off, and it just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer.”
Repeats concerns at Michigan
Before the 46-year-old surprised the NASCAR world and ended his 65-race winless streak and snagged a berth in the playoffs with his win at Michigan, he was asked about the car. And again, he didn’t mince words.
“It’s never the first line item on the to-do list. I can tell you from a driver, every time I hit something, it’s a lot harsher than any hit I took in any of the other cars,” Harvick admitted. “The only thing I can compare it to is hitting a concrete wall compared to what it used to be. That’s the issue. It’s not you look at the cars, and you’re like, ‘Oh man, they look great.’ That’s the problem. Nothing flew off of it, right? That’s the problem, and all of that energy is absorbed through you. So it feels like you get hit by the hammer, and the car survives but is that really what you want? The cars are all together. That looks great, but it doesn’t feel great.”
A few moments later, he made a telling comment.
“I don’t think anybody knows what that fix is but it’s not going to be high on the priority list because it’s going to be expensive,” he said.
Costs over drivers’ health? Is that really where this is? If NASCAR truly values the product that puts money into its pockets, which is the drivers, then the decision-makers should spare no expense when it comes to protecting them and ensuring that their health is the top priority. Until that happens, they are jeopardizing the drivers and the future of the sport.